“If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” Robert Holmes
THE gorgeous ghost gums are whispering in the wild Whitsundays wind, of anecdotes and ancient tales of the land on which I lounge. A sulphur crested cockatoo, cheeky as all buggery, perches on the edge of the plunge pool in which I find myself, chattering to me above the howl. I imagine both the trees and this native bird have much to teach me about Hamilton Island, if only I could speak their language. Instead, I slurp French champagne, and absorb the soaking view. It’s a Whitsunday Monday and it’s raining cats, dogs and rainbow lorikeets.
I have arrived in the midst of the monsoon season, fully aware there could be rain. It’s the tropics, and the region doesn’t flower and flourish without a damn good soaking. The Australian tourism industry gets spoiled by long spells of drought, while the farmers search the heavens for answers to their heartbreak. It’s been a tough season in Australia, one of delirious drought and flooding rain. As I write this, things are so dire that farmers in outback Queensland have run out of bullets to shoot their dying livestock. This is Dorothea Mackellar’s Australia. But that doesn’t make it any easier for anyone.
So I am surprised and delighted just before I arrive in the Whitsundays at the cheeky campaign adopted by the locals. Fed up with the scathing headlines and horror stories around the wet weather, they nickname themselves The Wetsundays and dive head first into the monsoon. It’s a no bullshit Facebook campaign embracing the “WetsundayWeek….because every cloud has a silver lining.” Locals drink cheeky pina coladas, play beach volleyball in the rain, stage a rain dance, and host a pool party at the lagoon. This soaking spirit is infectious.
As one local puts it “It’s not heavy rain, it’s soaking” and they wrap their raincoats around it with gusto. This is the Queensland spirit I adore and I am swept up by the tide. Bring it, Mother Nature, we’re ready for you. I plunge into my plunge pool at Qualia, determined to embrace this upbeat attitude. I drive my golf cart around the island and explore every inch. Soaked, but smiling, I pause for a meat pie down at the marina, and two rainbow lorikeets perch on my shoulder. I squeal with delight. Late afternoon, I indulge in a relaxing massage at Spa Qualia. My jaw is too taught from tension, I’m told, I need to slow down. Over dinner at Qualia, manager Scott Ratcliffe laments the weather but points to the inherent beauty of the view and the resort.
“If you are going to be stuck inside, you need to be stuck inside looking at this,” he says.
“There is nothing wrong with rugged beauty.”
I ride the waves from Hamilton Island to the Port of Airlie where I meet with Tourism Whitsundays. On a cool, wet day at La Marina Italian Restaurant, we feast on Nonna’s hearty meatballs, spicy mussels and seafood gnocchi. I arrive at Freedom Shores, a quirky mainland accommodation offering which resembles ten boats. On this dreary day I am the only guest, and it is divine. A smoked wagyu for dinner washed down by a gutsy Tempranillo and a shot of tequila from one of only two bottles of its kind in Australia, and I am ready to slumber. On my way back, there’s a gorgeous little tree snake also seeking shelter from the rain. It’s a good omen. Into my boat cabin I crawl, under the doona, and listen to the divine rumblings from the heavens. I sleep like a sailor.
It’s a wild and windy crossing over to Palm Bay Resort on Long Island, but it refreshes and rejuvenates me. If only those who think my job is glamorous could see me now, all salty and drenched. It turns out be the ideal afternoon to work, read and rest. Sure, I would have loved to have snorkelled the fringing reef here, but you can’t have it all. And how often are we forced to slow down? Not often enough in Australia. I feast on woodfired pizza and share a bottle of red and some flaming good tales with the manager here. Into the night I stroll back to my cabin and again, crawl under the doona for a rollicking good sleep.
By the end of the week I’m back on the mainland, and headed north to Bowen. After three weeks of monsoonal weather in the Whitsundays, it’s trying to be fine. We drive behind a convoy of State Emergency Services volunteers headed north to Townsville, to tackle the flood mop up. There’s pot holes the size of wading pools on the road. In Bowen, I check into the classy Coral Cove Resort overlooking the Coral Sea, sip more champagne and wait for a sunset that never comes. Never mind, the company is good and the tales are tall. On my last day in the region the sun finally breaks through the clouds, shy at first, but then with gusto. The humidity cloys to my skin like a koala bear on a gum tree.
Some days you forget that Australia is a wild nation, plonked down the bottom of the globe as if it was an afterthought. But I love my Down Under homeland of fires, floods, droughts and mad monsoons. And I adore my fellow Queenslanders who reminded me of our spirit which shines, even when the sun does not. May you all get to experience a WetsundayWeek at least once in your lifetime, for it is in those stupid, soaking days that you are forced to confront yourself. And if you’re lucky, your spirit will rise with every raindrop.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Whitsundays https://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
I’m flying to the Cook Islands today on assignment for 10 days. I’ll be back just after Easter with some more pics and words on my incredible adventure where I’ll be snorkelling and sailing these beautiful waters, interviewing the only female chief of one of their tribes, participating in a traditional bush beer ceremony with the men, staying in a brand new eco retreat, going on a cycling storytelling tour and visiting some of their most remote islands. I can’t wait to meet these beautiful people.
Photos and travel courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism http://www.cookislands.travel
THIS is a tale of scoundrels, scallywags and sailing and it begins with me losing my credit card on my first day in Bali on my last trip of 2016. I have no one else but myself to blame for this mishap, the effects of two champagnes and several red wines enroute adding to the utter delirium of approaching the invisible finishing line of another working year and causing me to lose focus. And so I simply went to a cash machine, withdrew $200 worth of Indonesia rupiah, and left my card in the ATM, never to be seen again.
It took me a good hour to realise my folly by which time my card had well and truly be swallowed by the machine, or was being given a good, old workout by a Balinese man claiming to be a blonde, Australian woman with a non-Indonesian name. I cancelled my card and did what any Australian in a foreign land on their own without any ready source of cash would do…went to the nearest beach bar and ordered a Bintang. The healing powers of alcohol should never be underestimated in my opinion, and it was only several sips in that I realised there was a solution to my problem. And so I emailed a mate I hadn’t seen in some 20 years, my only friend in Bali, and wondered whether he might like to turn up to a lunch we were having the next day with a cool $500 cash.
This is the other thing I love about Australians. We tend to be pretty decent people, particularly when another Aussie is in strife and my old mate Richard Laidlaw, who by the way pens the most excellent Hector’s Diary https://8degreesoflatitude.com
from his Bali home, barely battered an eyelid, turning up with a wad of cash, not unlike a pimp. But I digress. That very morning I was being picked up by another Aussie, Amanda Zsebik, who owned the ship on which I would be sailing for the next 9 days around Indonesia.
I confessed the previous night’s utter stupidity to Amanda enroute to Al likai, and suspected she too, would curse my carelessness. But instead, she offered her view on Bali which has been her home for more than a decade.
“The energy in Bali takes your money. Many of us come to Bali to learn a life lesson quickly whether it is losing money or screwing up a relationship,” Amanda says.
“I’ve really seen the dark side of Bali, I love it, it’s my home, but you learn an enormous amount of respect for it.
“I don’t think they are bad people but in karmic terms they are having a Bali life to learn the dark side of nature.
“I’ve had black magic on me and spent two years in hospital. Bali has an incredible positive energy but there is a dark side to it too.”
So powerful is this dark side that not only does Amanda wear a black coral bracelet on her right wrist to protect against the black magic of which she speaks, but the words “light and love” are tattooed on her left ankle.
Richard, who along with his partner Lea Crombie joined us aboard Al likai for lunch before we set sail, believes the future of Bali will be “the same shit, but more of it”.
“The Balinese were rich in a self-sustaining way but then people arrived with money. There were the artists of the 30s but it was really when the airport opened in the 60s and the surfers started arriving in the 70s. They would see these guys coming and knew they had money and they wanted it,” he says.
“I think its edge, in regional terms, is it is not Muslim. There is nothing wrong with places that are, but you must accept there are restrictions on the western style of life in a Muslim place.
“There is a sort of mystery to the east. The social structure here is so strong that local religion is not really threatened by western secularism. They are prepared to let people party on.
“I think they have been playing everyone for suckers for decades and I say ‘well done guys’.”
Despite its negatives, Bali remains a place for rule breakers, scoundrels, scallywags, and the sailors I mentioned before. And Amanda, 60, who once called upmarket Rose Bay her permanent home, fits into at least one of these categories, offering sailing journeys which take travellers beyond Bali. On the particular trip on which I join her, we travel east from Bali in the direction of Timor, in a journey which will take us to remote eastern islands, to snorkel with the most sublime of sea creatures and to Komodo, to see the dragons. Over 9 days we’ll travel 350 nautical miles which will take 50 hours of sailing.
On the first day of sailing I ask Amanda, who has completed this journey many times, what draws her to this part of the region.
“I don’t have a favourite place because every place is different and every time we get in the water there will be a different thing to look at. I love swimming with the mantas,” she says.
“The thing I love is the constant moving. Spiritually, only 10 per cent of humans are spiritually awake. Jung talks about this. Those 10 per cent who have to see what’s around the horizon or over the next hill.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, just as long as I’m going. The challenge is to find stillness within the motion.”
The stillness within the motion. Her words stick with me during the entire journey. On the rare occasions that I’m sea sick, and on others when I’m sitting out on the deck in the early evening, contemplating the wild ride that has been 2016, and wondering what 2017 will bring. I focus long and hard on this mantra and then one afternoon, as the sun is dipping below the ocean, snorkelling the warm waters off of Gili Trawangan, I concentrate on one particular green turtle, gently lazing and grazing along the ocean floor. And in that one golden moment, the motion finally stops and the stillness begins.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Al likai. For more information on the boat and her sailing itineraries go to http://www.indonesianislandsail.com
Follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
IT’S a Whitsunday Wednesday and I am aboard the 80ft yacht, Brahms and Liszt which I am informed is sailing rhyming slang for pissed. Somewhere, in the shimmering waters around me, are 800 sex-charged sailors. Or so I’m told. What I do know is that every second salt is called Fitzy, so I’ve just taken to singing out “g’day Fitzy” when I walk down the dock of the Abell Point Marina each morning and hoping that my greeting lands on the right shoulders. What I am yet to learn is that crusty old salts like their calamari young, so to speak, and I have a better chance of spotting a whale in the Whitsunday Passage than hooking a man. Me, I’m more of a barracuda.
Airlie Beach Race Week and every man and his dinghy is in town, lured by the warm trade winds which sweep the Australian sailing fraternity north along the Queensland coast. The weather is perfect except for one thing. There’s no wind and so, somewhere out to sea, sit 800 frustrated sailors, the lack of breeze keeping their sails limp, so to speak.
I, too, am frustrated. I am meant to be writing a story about Airlie Beach and sailing, but it’s difficult without any wind in the sails. In these parts, it blows every week of the year but for once, Mother Nature is refusing to co-operate. Bored sailors circle each other like sharks, jokes and jibes tossed across bows, until early afternoon, when enough breeze picks up to warrant enough of a race. It’s not perfect, but it will do.
As for me, a great story I eventually find, but it is one borne from dredging rather than smooth sailing. A quick quip here, a chat there, a day out on a tallship, a spot of snorkelling, a few drinks at the yacht club, a wander down the main drag. Some stories are like life. You have to wait for them to come to you, rather than force them. And so it is with this one.
Sure, I could shout superlatives from the bow of a boat about how wonderful the Whitsundays is, but it’s all that and more. It’s the crinkly smiles behind the sunglasses as experienced eyes look out to sea, searching for a hint of a breeze. Just like I look frantically to the horizon for a story. It’s recognising boats – Fifty Shades of 50, Rum Gutz, Malice – like they are all old friends. It’s the unexpected.
I came to Airlie Beach expecting some wild winds and, if I’m a little bit honest, hoping I might meet a man. In between grasping for my story, I fantasise about what I would do with a drunken sailor. I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say the thought of sailing off into the sunset with someone held great appeal. But life’s not like that. You can’t just rig up the sails and expect the wind will arrive at your command. Instead, you sit, you watch, you wait. You drop anchor. And you laugh. At life’s perfect imperfection.
The Global Goddess travelled to Airlie Beach Race Week as a guest of the Whitsunday Sailing Club. Next year, Airlie Beach Race Week will celebrate its 25th anniversary. And with a bit of luck, there will be a breeze. http://www.airlieraceweek.com